I was watching a video today about time. The amount of time we as Americans spend working. I’m not talking hours in a day or week. I talking over your life time. The average person will work for at least 40 years, chasing the dollar trying to earn enough to live comfortably so they can retire. Think about that number for a minute. 40 years.
I remember when I was just in my first year as a Deputy Sheriff and I was talking to a co-worker. We were walking through the doors at our detention facility and I said “I can’t wait to retire.” She looked at me and said, “Really? Exactly what do you plan to do once you retire? Work somewhere else? Doing what?” I told her once I retired there would be no working again. I then explained that there was a whole world out there to explore and that “one day” when I retired, I would travel the world. I just really didn’t understand the reality that most people who retire, end up finding another job usually because either their retirement isn’t enough to live on or they’re bored and need something to do. I don’t really understand that concept. I always said, once I retire, that’s it. Retirement, as I see it, is meant for people to enjoy the rest of their lives doing whatever they want. I didn’t know I’d be forced to retire so early with so little money.
With this retirement, I had to re-evaluate my life. I needed to make changes. I went to a vocational rehabilitation specialist who had me take a series of different tests. IQ tests, personality tests and timed tests of reading, math, cognition and pattern identification. In addition to all of those, I also had a psychological examination. I scored so high on the exams they said that I could choose to do any one of the jobs listed in this 6 page booklet. There were 3,000 jobs to choose from. This testing was designed to narrow down the scope of jobs I’d be qualified for. How was I supposed to narrow it down from 3,000 jobs?
It took me 2 years to decide that I was going to stick to my original plan and just not work. I was looking for a job that allowed me the same luxuries as being a public servant. I wanted ample vacation time, sick time, a retirement package, medical, dental and vision benefits with a schedule that allowed me to work only 3 days per week and get paid for holidays. Nothing I looked into; except nursing and public service (and yes, I looked into almost 600 of the jobs that appealed to me the most), allowed me more than 2 weeks off per year. I understand that’s what the average American gets every year, but I’ve never only taken 2 weeks off. Two weeks isn’t enough time to even relax into vacation mode. That’s just enough time to get used to having the time to learn how to relax and let shit go. Then you’re back into the grind only to have to wait an entire year before you get to have another vacation. Vacation is essential to my lifestyle. It helps keep me sane and happy.
See, I consider myself to be relatively healthy. I eat nourishing foods, not crap. I exercise regularly and I try to keep my stress levels down by doing things I enjoy. Despite these things working in my favor, I was diagnosed with Thyroid and Lymphatic cancer when I was 30. It was shocking because I had no family history of Thyroid or Lymphatic cancer; All other cancers, yes, but not these ones. All the doctors I saw asked if I had been overexposed to radiation. The only radiation I’d been exposed to had been medical imaging for various reasons like broken bones and dental x-rays. The doctor’s considered me an anomaly. It only took 10 days from the time of my diagnosis to the operating table because the cancer was spreading so fast. My whole body imaging showed the Lymphatic cancer had spread to the lymph nodes in my arms, abdominal area and legs. Bronson and I had to have “the talk.” The “what happens if I die from this? What will you do with your life after my death,” how will this affect our son, who was only 2 years old at that time? After a series of radiation therapies I had been given the all clear. I am a Cancer Survivor (I just found out that my cancer markers are up again, so I have to get more testing done, ugh!).
We really don’t know how much time we have here on Earth. Everyday should be a day that you wake up and are able to enjoy what you’re doing. If you’re not enjoying what you’re doing, and you’re in a job you don’t like just because it has great benefits, or it pays well or you have seniority doesn’t mean you have to stay there. You’re only limited by the limitations you put on yourself. If you’re not willing to make sacrifices and take risks, you will always be stuck. If you continue to tell yourself you can’t do something, you’ve defeated yourself before you even gave yourself a chance. There is a certain amount of risk involved when deciding to do what you want vs. what you think you need to do and not everyone is comfortable with that and that’s ok.
In many other countries, Finland for example, people aren’t tied to jobs they don’t like just to have benefits. Benefits are something awarded by their government. That means people can go anywhere to any job that they enjoy doing because they don’t have to worry about benefits, they’re covered. They also have one of the best school systems in the world, and guess what? The kids in primary school only go to school on average, 3 hours each day and don’t have homework… So what are we doing wrong in this country that we’re rated number 25 out of all of these countries, yet we are a “world power?” With being a “world power” I would imagine we could be so much better in our school system.
When you venture outside this country, you see that many other places, not all, but many, move at a slower pace. They try to make the most of their time. They spend their lunch hour (or hours) with friends and family, the spend the weekends with friends and family, they travel all over the world. We rush to get our lunch eaten or an errand run before returning to the grind. We don’t make time for our friends and family during this time and so many of us take a “working lunch.” Why is that ok? Why do we think this is normal behavior? So many of us work a 9-5 grind with 2 weeks off per year. I know people who have never taken a vacation in their entire career. I know people who feel guilty for taking vacation because there is nobody to fill their job while they’re gone. I know people who refuse to take vacations because they have so much work that comes to them that they can’t afford for it to get backed up on their desk waiting for them to come back from vacation to take care of it. It seems we care more about our jobs than our friends and families. WHY HAVE WE MADE THIS THE NORM?
You only live once (unless you believe in reincarnation), and life is too short to continue playing by someone else’s rules. We don’t all have the option to up and quit a job we hate and find another one. I know this. I don’t live in a fantasy land. But if we never speak up and we continue to be silent about it and we don’t start asking questions, we will forever be stuck in that cycle. Don’t be afraid to be the one to stir the pot, we need those people on such a basic, fundamental level. Until the innovators and entrepreneurs decide that when they hire people, they will allow flexible schedules, remote work and additional time off and benefits to all employees not just the full time ones, we will always be scrambling to find the time to do the things we enjoy. By the way, as a side note, the Trump administration is trying to pass a bill that if you have more than 30 employees they no longer have to offer you health benefits, meaning, if your employer fits into this category, you’ll be paying those expenses yourself in addition to what you’re already paying. Yay! (sarcasm dripping from my lips). We will continue in this perpetual cycle of playing catch up on the weekends. This is not how I want to spend my life, working or not. I don’t want to “catch up” to my life. I want to be present always in my life, after all, it is MY life, not my job’s life or my supervisor’s life or anyone else’s life. What about you? How do you want to spend your time? Just think about it.